India In Australia - Performance Review
Tapabrata Banerjee runs the rule over India's performance in the 2-0 Test series defeat to Australia, assessing that while some questions have been answered, others remain up for discussion.
As soon as India’s 15-man squad for the upcoming Cricket World Cup was announced the focus pretty much shifted to the World Cup and on India’s team selection even though the Indian team was still playing a Test series against Australia.
The final Test match ended on Saturday with India fighting it out for a tough draw. The series ended with a 2-0 loss for India. In hindsight and for many cricket observers this was a better than expected result compared to the previous tour which they lost 4-0.
But it could have been very different had some of the Indian players held their nerve in the post-tea session during the first Test in Adelaide. Chasing 364 runs for an unlikely win on the fifth day India went to tea on 205 losing only two wickets.
But half an hour into the third session Murali Vijay was dismissed for 99 following which India lost seven more wickets in that session thanks to some good bowling from Nathan Lyon and lost the match by 48 runs with only 17 balls remaining.
It was a memorable series from various points of view. It started with the distressing backdrop of Phillip Hughes’ death. The first Test was delayed which allowed Australian captain Michael Clarke to get fit and play.
But MS Dhoni was still unfit and hence India had a new stop gap captain in Virat Kohli who played superbly and became only the second player in the history of Test cricket to score centuries in his first two innings as Test captain.
Dhoni was back in for the second Test but Clarke was out of the series due to his back problem and Steven Smith was made captain of Australia. By the fourth Test Dhoni was also gone, this time permanently as he retired from Test match cricket to focus on the other formats of the game.
Kohli became India’s permanent Test captain and celebrated that by scoring another Test century in Sydney. It was his 10th ton in his 33rd Test and he finished the Test series with 692 runs and four tons, highest series aggregate for any Indian during India-Australia Tests ever.
So while Kohli had one of best series for Indian players on foreign soil how did his team mates perform?
One part of the opening spot looks solid thanks to Vijay who again had a hard working and rewarding series after the England tour. He was third in the total runs tally after Smith and Kohli who were in a completely different zone compared to the others.
Vijay’s total of 482 is respectable and he provided starts in six of his eight innings and scored five fifty-plus scores in the series with a highest of 144. India will surely hope that Vijay’s touch will remain as it is when South Africans will visit India in the second half of 2015.
The other opener’s spot is still up for grabs. Shikhar Dhawan played the first three Tests and mostly looked unsure about where his off stump is and finally lost his spot to KL Rahul in Sydney. Rahul had a terrible debut in the Boxing Day Test match batting in the middle order but showed his potential with a composed century in the first innings of the Sydney Test, playing as an opener. Still he is too new to make any judgment and deserves more chances at the top of the order.
In the middle order Ajinkya Rahane is making big strides towards becoming one of the most dependable players in the team. He is not as extravagant as Kohli but he displayed his calmness and still with his two memorable match-saving innings during the third and fourth Test.
His century in Melbourne was a treat and his mammoth partnership with Kohli during that innings took Indian fans back to the Dravid-Laxman-Tendulkar-Ganguly era.
Cheteshwar Pujara looked solid in patches but a significant big score kept eluding him. He has a very good technique and could be having certain issues with his concentration during his stay in the wicket. His being dropped in the fourth Test was baffling and hopefully he will get back his form and ability to play long innings while playing in Ranji Trophy, India’s domestic tournament, as he is not part of India’s World Cup plans.
Rohit Sharma remains an enigma for Indian fans. After two huge centuries in his first two Tests in home soil he is still looking for success away from home. In this series he played three Tests and finished with an average of less than 30. Even in the innings where he got starts his demise came suddenly by playing a poor shot even after getting set.
The pitches of this series were among the most batting friendly ones in the history of the game. Having said that, Indian batting looks consistent at this moment and barring one or two areas it is more or less settled.
During Dhoni’s absence and after his retirement the wicket-keeper's spot was filled by Wriddhiman Saha. Saha is considered by many as the best gloveman for India currently who is also a solid bat. He played well in patches and looked steady both in the front and back of wicket. But at times nerves get better of him as shown by the terrible shot he played in the second innings of the first Test or when he missed a couple of easy chances during the final Test.
He should get more chances during India’s next series at home and hopefully he will be able to make himself permanent in the team for next few years.
The less said about the Indian bowlers the better. In the absence of Zaheer Khan, there was no one in the bowling department to lead the pack. Their most successful bowler in England, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, was injured and out of the first three Tests.
Ishant Sharma, despite his huge experience, still was not able to play a pivotal role and failed to maintain intensity for long spells. Among the youngsters, Mohammed Shami was the most successful and also looked to bowl intelligently at times.
But he also failed to maintain the pressure and his failure to reverse swing the Kookaburra balls during the Test matches was a big let-down for India.
Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron looked good at small intervals but most of the time gave an impression that there is no definite plan or thought process in their bowling. Some of the strategies such as bowling short balls to Mitchell Johnson or Brad Haddin did not work.
Among the spinners, Ravindra Jadeja was injured and did not play the Test series. India experimented with Karn Sharma in the first Test with moderate success and then went back to Ravichandran Ashwin who never looked very threatening.
Ashwin's lower order batting is definitely useful but he needs to perform with the ball too in overseas conditions to give Indians any chance of getting 20 wickets - which is required to win Test matches.
Overall the team is still going through the transition phase. While the batting looks to be gaining weight match by match, the bowling performance still remains gloomy. This is something which will keep both the Indian team management and fans anxious during the World Cup also.
© Cricket World 2015